The Westboro Baptist in All of Us
Maybe we expect those at Westboro and Megan Phelps-Roper to be social misfits or sociopaths. It may be surprising to discover that's not the case. In 2011, the Kansas City Star newspaper described Megan as intelligent, athletic, a lover of Harry Potter and Mumford & Sons, and as "peppy, goofy and, by all accounts, happy." But in the next breath reporter Dugan Arnett rounds out his 2011 description of Megan with: "Oh, and one other thing about Megan: She wants to make it perfectly clear that you and the rest of this filthy, perverted nation will be spending a long, fiery eternity burning in hell." This same peppy, goofy Megan is also the one who picketed the funerals while holding hateful signs. What a contrast.
Most of us wouldn't go to the same lengths as those at Westboro, but collectively, we have our own prejudices, rigid rules, regulations, and zealotries. These drive us to marginalize, cast aspersions upon and exclude others within our own churches, Christian organizations and institutions who so much as dare to differ, even slightly, from our own political or theological stances.
I observed this firsthand during the recent presidential election. Two of the godliest people I know were eviscerated—slandered by other believers for publicly sharing the reasons they weren't voting for Mitt Romney. Christian zealots went so far as to demand that these two be fired from their place of employment.
In an insightful post entitled, "Zealotry Today," Scot McKnight observes:
Zealotry is conscious zeal to be radically committed, so radically committed that one goes beyond the Bible to defend things that are not in the Bible…. Zealots…convince themselves that, even though the Bible does not say something, what they are saying is really what the Bible wanted after all.
My friend and New Testament scholar, Tim Gombis, says that such behavior is due to our underlying assumptions. In his post, "The Fundamentalist's Error" (an error made by many of us, not just fundamentalists) he explains, "The underlying assumption is that my thoughts are God's thoughts; my cause is God's cause. This divine alliance makes me exempt from obedience in order that I might bring about God's purposes."
There's no doubt that some of us evangelicals do have a penchant for bludgeoning those Christians unlike us; we zealously use godless means to accomplish what we believe to be God's ends. We fail to realize that God cares about the means we use just as much as he cares about the ends. Like Megan and those at Westboro, we too can be intelligent, peppy, goofy, all-in-all seemingly well-adjusted, while peacefully promulgating contempt for those who dare to question our stances.